The Prime Minister of Estonia will not cancel a wide-ranging co-operation agreement with President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, despite the Estonian government’s tough public position against Russian aggression in the Baltics.
In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas played down his Centre Party’s links to United Russia, saying the 14-year-old co-operation “protocol” between the two parties is inactive. The two-page agreement, which calls for the formation of inter-party committees, stronger relationships between elected party members and information sharing, has been the subject of contentious debate in Estonia.
“If I said it’s not active, then it doesn’t exist any more,” Mr. Ratas said during an interview on Monday. Mr. Ratas was in Ottawa marking the 100th anniversary of Estonia’s independence.
Despite Mr. Ratas’s insistence that the protocol has never been put into practice and probably never will be, his communications adviser Johannes Merilai told The Globe it has not been formally cancelled. Mr. Merilai was hesitant to say why the agreement hasn’t been renounced, noting “this is party politics.”
Last year, Mr. Ratas told Estonia’s public broadcaster that it is up to the Centre Party’s leadership to decide whether it would ever ditch the agreement.
Asked about the agreement during a joint news conference with Mr. Ratas on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he “thoroughly” supports the Estonian leaders’ explanation of his party’s agreement with United Russia.
“We stand very closely aligned with Estonia in its approach and its concerns about Russia,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Most of Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority supports Mr. Ratas’s Centre Party, according to recent polling by Estonian research agency Kantar Emor. While the party has distanced itself from Mr. Putin’s United Russia in recent years – expressing support for EU sanctions against Russian officials – Mr. Ratas has not buckled under domestic and regional pressure to cancel the agreement entirely.
Latvia’s Harmony Party cancelled its co-operation agreement with United Russia last year when it joined the Party of European Socialists, a union of social-democratic parties from all over the European Union and Norway.
On Monday, Mr. Ratas and Mr. Trudeau announced a memorandum of understanding on digital co-operation, through which Canada and Estonia will share best practices to promote transparency, empower citizens and improve government services. Mr. Trudeau commended Estonia as a global leader in digital governance, citing E-Estonia, the country’s system of digitized government services, databases and functions created to simplify bureaucratic processes.
Mr. Ratas thanked Canadian troops for their role in Operation Reassurance, Canada’s military contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Central and Eastern Europe. Canadian troops have also been based in the Estonian capital of Tallinn since 2016, as a part of the NATO Force Integration Unit.
Canada is home to more than 24,000 Estonians – one of the largest Estonian diasporas in the world.